In today’s first Mass reading from Acts, we hear of the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen chastises the “stiff-necked people” for their persecution of the prophets and speaks to them of his vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Infuriated, they rush upon Stephen, throw him out of the city and stone him. As they were stoning him, Stephen, mirroring some of Jesus’ last words on the cross, cries out “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
It is the second of those statements that I always react most strongly to, and I am filled with admiration and awe that at the moment of his death, Stephen expresses concern for the forgiveness by God of those who are executing him. It is an act of love I don’t always live up to. When people commit far less grave sins against me, I confess that my first reaction often has to do with “poor me” and my mind doesn’t always jump so quicly (or at all) to asking God to forgive them their sins.
Each time we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Let us also pray for the grace to forgive as Stephen (and Christ) forgave.